Are projection and anger common during grieving?

The grieving process after losing a loved one encompasses a wide range of difficult emotions. Two common feelings that can arise are projection and anger. Though uncomfortable, these responses are normal parts of mourning. Understanding them can help you better cope.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: Oct 12, 2023
3 min read

Why Projection Occurs During Grief

Projection is a psychological defense mechanism where someone attributes thoughts, feelings, or motives they find unacceptable in themselves to another person. This enables denying or misrepresenting realities about the self that feel too threatening to acknowledge consciously.
After a major loss like the death of a close family member, projection is common. The intense pain of grieving can overwhelm people. Strong emotions like extreme helplessness, guilt, shame, regret, or fear about the future often surface. To cope, the mind projects these onto other people.
For instance, you may irrationally criticize relatives for not showing enough compassion. But the anger actually stems from your own inner anguish. Or you blame doctors for not doing enough, when feelings of self-blame are too much to bear. Projection shields you from confronting complex emotions so you can slowly integrate them.

How Anger Manifests During the Grieving Process

Anger is another extremely common feeling people experience after the death of a loved one. There are many complex sources for this anger:

  • Anger at the person who died – Feeling they abandoned you or left things unresolved between you.
  • Anger at doctors or caregivers – Believing they did not do enough to save the person’s life.
  • Anger at family and friends – Resenting lack of comfort or expecting you to “just move on.”
  • Anger at God or faith – Wondering how a benevolent power could allow this.
  • Anger at oneself – Regretting not doing certain things differently with time left.
  • Anger at the unfairness of life – Losing someone vital to you.

This anger comes from the intense pain and confusion of adjusting to absence. The more helpless and unable to control things you feel, the more anger surfaces as a reaction. Anger can also mask underlying emotions like fear, loneliness, or sadness which seem too hard to face.

Why Accepting Anger Matters for Healing

Though anger during grieving can seem inappropriate, it is important to accept it as part of the process. Suppressing or denying anger often backfires by prolonging and intensifying the feelings. Allowing yourself to fully acknowledge and express anger in safe, non-harmful ways can help it diminish naturally.
It’s okay to be angry – at the person who died, situation, or even the universe. Using coping strategies like talking with understanding friends, doing physical activity, writing in a journal, or seeing a counselor provides healthy ventilation for the anger. Over time this facilitates the anger fading.

Letting Go of Misdirected Anger Through Forgiveness

Since anger often gets misdirected toward unintended targets like family members or doctors during grief, an important part of healing is letting go through forgiveness. Know that hurtful words or actions by others during this time likely stem from their own difficulty coping. They deserve compassion.
Forgiving yourself for perceived failings is also crucial. Being consumed with guilt over not doing something differently cannot change the past. All you can do is learn from mistakes and resolve to live more fully. Make peace with any regrets so you can move forward.

When to Seek Help for Anger

For most, the feelings of anger that surface during grieving will dissipate with acceptance over time. But occasionally, intense anger persists and starts significantly impacting relationships, work, or physical health. This may require seeking counseling.
Unresolved anger can morph into bitterness, depression, anxiety, or isolation. A therapist can provide perspective and teach constructive ways to process the anger. They may also recommend medication if anger remains unmanageable. Prioritizing self-care and support is important. The grieving process has no set timeline.

Anger and Projection Help You Slowly Integrate Loss

Experiencing projection and anger during grieving is uncomfortable but normal. These responses act as coping mechanisms when grappling with the enormity of loss. Getting support, verbalizing feelings, utilizing relaxation techniques, and focusing on positive memories can help you mitigate anger. Know that the more you embrace the full spectrum of emotions that arise in mourning, the more this facilitates eventual acceptance. You honor the deceased by navigating the hard path of grief courageously.